For two seasons, Markus Manson has been trying to work his way onto the playing field and help the Gators win. At times, head coach Urban Meyer has praised him, but at other times Meyer has been his biggest critic.
With the Gators heading into spring practice short of experience at cornerback, Markus Manson saw and seized an opportunity to help out his team. Not only has he been able to take numerous reps under the coaching of Chuck Heater, but he has also worked his way onto the first team defense in the process.
One of the most highly recruited running backs from the class of 2004, it’s a bit surprising that Manson finds himself switching to the other side of the ball in search of playing time. But his size and speed are the perfect combination for him to be successful at corner, and with Heater’s direction, it could be another one of Meyer’s position changes that benefits the Gators in the long run. At least for now, Manson’s dream of lining up in the backfield for the Gators is in the distant past.
“I’m just focused on going out and playing corner everyday,” Manson said. “That’s my main focus because I know that during two-a-days I’m going to be at corner.”
Manson has handled the transition well. He has been assigned the daily task of covering Percy Harvin, Andre Caldwell, David Nelson and others from the Gators’ talented receiving corps. He’s looked uncomfortable at times, but has handled the move this spring with his usual strong effort and professionalism.
“When we first got here it was hard,” he said. “But as spring has gone on, I’ve gotten better. I’m working hard, and I’m starting to get it down. It’s coming a lot easier to me now just like how running back was easy to me.”
Manson said things have slowed down for him as each practice goes by, which makes it easier for him to showcase what he can do on defense.
“The biggest thing for me has been to just make plays,” Manson said. “I’m coming out and trying to make plays at the highest level with Bubba and Percy, Jared Fayson, Louis Murphy, David Nelson and all those guys. Just being able to compete with those guys and having the other guys in the back end helping me out.”
The biggest difference for Manson in his transition has been the obvious, instead of getting hit, he’s the one doing the hitting.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” he said. “I like doing it. It takes my mind off of things because I don’t have to worry about anyone hitting me. Now that I can be the one doing it, I like it.”
Aside from the contact, Manson said there are a lot of similarities between running back and cornerback.
“At corner you can just go out and run and use your instincts,” Manson said. “Running back is the same in that you get the ball and run on instincts. So they are kind of the same, the only difference is that at running back you get hit and at corner you don’t get hit. You’re doing the hitting.”
Someone he might find himself hitting while playing corner is his old position-mate and good friend Kestahn Moore. In dealing with the constant tongue-lashings the running back group often received from Meyer over the last two years, the group has become close. Now, Manson and Moore find themselves on opposite sides of the ball, but that hasn’t changed their relationship.
“Me and K-Mo we still hang out,” Manson said. “Just because I’m on defense, that doesn’t mean that we can’t be boys anymore. I told them I just have to do what’s best for the team and that’s been to move to corner and help those guys out.”
With only a couple of spring practices left, Manson said his focus will be on improving his technique. He said he’s getting positive feedback from Heater as long as he gets used to being on the field for every play.
“On defense you have to be out there on every play, but on offense there are certain personnel for certain plays,” Manson said. “At cornerback you have to be physical and mentally ready for every play. When I get a little tired, I tend to stand up a little bit. I just have to focus on staying down low and focus on my back peddling and technique.”
In his two seasons at running back, Manson rushed 85 times for 380 yards and two touchdowns.